News & Views Monday 23rd March to Sunday 29th March 2020

UK Spouse/Partner Visas - Access to Benefits

Spouse visas are granted on the condition that the successful applicant can have’ No recourse to public funds (NRFP)’ in the UK. There is often confusion around what is meant by ‘public funds’ and what benefits fall under this definition, with many migrants are worried about the possibility of jeopardising their immigration status by claiming certain benefits. In this article we outline the rules on access to benefits for non-EEA spouses in UK, and answer some of their key questions.

What benefits can be claimed on a UK spouse/partner visa?

‘Public funds’ does not include benefits that are based on National Insurance contributions. Benefits to which a person is entitled as a result of National Insurance contributions include:

contribution-based jobseeker’s allowance;
guardian’s allowance;
incapacity benefit;
contribution based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA);
maternity allowance;
retirement pension;
statutory maternity sick pay;
statutory sickness pay;
widow’s benefit and bereavement benefit.
Whilst these are the main benefits that can be claimed by those on a UK spouse visa, this is not an exhaustive list. If you are in any doubt you should check the definition of public funds in Paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules.

Read more: Jack Freeland, McGill & Co,

Changes to Home Office Asylum & Resettlement Policy and Practice in Response to Coronavirus

Whilst there has been no formal announcement about reporting requirements, we are aware that many people have received SMS messages from the Home Office informing them that their reporting conditions have been suspended until further notice.  It is likely that decisions to suspend reporting conditions are being taken on a case by case basis.

Assisted Voluntary Returns Service Has Been Put On Hold
The Home Office have confirmed that their Assisted Voluntary Returns Service has been put on hold due to operational and logistical challenges.   They will continue to register an interest from people who wish to return, and seek to offer other forms of support to people wanting to return to their country of origin.

Some People Allowed to Remain In Asylum Accommodation Past the 28 Day Period
Whilst there has been no formal announcement on the 28-day move-on period, we are aware that asylum accommodation providers are allowing some newly-recognised refugees to stay in accommodation past the normal 28 days notice period. It is likely this is being done on a case-by-case basis as the Home Office has instructed accommodation providers to alert them of any cases of people who are exhibiting symptoms and/or need to self-isolate, and therefore need to stay in their accommodation. We are also aware that the Home Office is engaging with local authorities to assess the impact of the current situation on their capacity to provide housing assistance and other services.

All Resettlement Travel Suspended
The UNHCR has temporarily suspended resettlement travel for refugees.  UNHCR will continue to work in refugee-hosting countries to ensure that the processing of resettlement cases continues.   The suspension of travel is a temporary measure and they hope to resume full resettlement travel as soon as logistics permit.

Screening Interviewees, Do Not Have To Physically Attend the Asylum Screening Unit tn Croydon
The Home Office have cancelled some screening interviews and are working on a new system for asylum claims to be registered without the need to physically attend the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon.  Further details on the new system will be posted here once they become available.

Substantive Asylum Interviews Paused
The Home Office have paused substantive asylum interviews and are currently exploring alternative options to manage these going forward. Further details will be posted here once they are made available.

No Requirement to Attend Liverpool for Further Submissions
The Home Office have confirmed that they have suspended the requirement to attend the Further Submissions Unit in Liverpool in order to lodge a further submission.It is now possible to send further submissions by post or email

This information from Refugee Council:

Woman Held at Yarl’s Wood IRC Tests Positive For Coronavirus

The Home Office confirmed the diagnosis on Sunday 22/03/2020, and said the woman had been placed in isolation at the Bedfordshire facility after showing symptoms. No other staff or detainees have tested positive for Covid-19, the Home Office added. The charity Women For Refugee Women said many of the detainees inside the facility had underlying health conditions, which could put them more at risk if they are infected. “The Home Office is putting already vulnerable women at risk through its chaotic and inhumane system of detention,” the charity’s director Natasha Walter said. It is time to close the detention centre, and ensure that every individual receives the support they need to protect themselves and others during this pandemic.”

Yarl’s Wood IRC, which is located near Milton Ernest, north of Bedford, houses women and adult family groups awaiting immigration clearance. One woman, who has been in the centre for more than a fortnight, said: “Now they are taking precautions, but they were taking no precautions until yesterday. So right now everyone is panicking. We know there is a pandemic going on and here we are not being given the means to protect ourselves.”
Detainees arriving at immigration removal centres are medically assessed by a nurse within two hours of their arrival and a doctor within 24 hours, the Home Office said.

Read more: Shropshire Star,

Home Office Release 300 From Detention Centres Amid Covid-19 Pandemic

Release follows legal action that argues Home Office is failing to protect immigration detainees. The Home Office has released almost 300 people from detention centres in the last few days because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Guardian has learned. The speed and scale of the release is unprecedented in recent years. Detainees and charities estimate that more than a quarter of those currently locked up have been set free. The release comes in the wake of a legal action launched last week which argued that the Home Office had failed to protect immigration detainees from the coronavirus outbreak and failed to identify which detainees were at particular risk of serious harm or death if they do contract the virus due to their age or underlying health conditions.
It called for the release of all those who are particularly vulnerable and for all detainees to be tested, along with the suspension of all new detentions. The action warns even a short delay could have “catastrophic consequences”. It is believed that more than 900 people are currently in immigration detention.
The Home Office provided a response to the legal action to the high court out of hours on Friday. After receiving the Home Office submissions, Mr Justice Swift made an order on Friday night that a half-day hearing should be held next Wednesday to determine whether or not to grant the emergency measures requested in the legal challenge by the charity Detention Action and a vulnerable detainee who suffers from hypertension, which experts say doubles the risk of death if Covid-19 is contracted.

Read more: Diane Taylor, Guardian,

High Court Rejects Call to Free 736 Detainees at Risk From Coronavirus

The high court has rejected calls to free hundreds of immigration detainees who, lawyers and human rights activists say, are at risk from Covid-19 while behind bars. The ruling, following a hearing over Skype on Wednesday, was handed down in response to an urgent legal challenge from Detention Action. The legal action asked for the release of hundreds of detainees who are particularly vulnerable to serious illness or death if they contract the virus because of particular health conditions, and also for the release of those from about 50 countries to which the Home Office is currently unable to remove people because of the pandemic. The two judges – Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the Queen’s Bench division, and Mr Justice Swift – came down strongly on the side of the Home Office and highlighted the range of measures already being implemented by the home secretary, Priti Patel.

Read more: Diane Taylor, Guardian,

Charter Flights: Wild West of Immigration Law

The recent charter ight to Jamaica received signicant interest from the media and fuelled a polarised public debate. To those opposing the ight, it represented all that was wrong with a proudly hostile environment; embracing a ‘deport rst, ask questions later’ policy. They argued it embodied a government already accused of being institutionally racist in the leaked Windrush lessons learned review. For those on the other side of the fence, it became the poster child for an untamed judiciary meddling in political decisions and failing to respect the best interests of the public.

There were a number of dierent legal challenges taking place on the day before the charter ight. One of these culminated in a Court of Appeal injunction on behalf of the NGO Detention Action to stop the Home Oce deporting anyone detained at the Heathrow immigration detention centres. The basis of this challenge was the failure to provide working mobile phone SIM cards to detainees, which resulted in them being unable to access legal advice in the days leading up to the ight. Fifty people were scheduled to depart on the charter ight on 11 February and the injunction prevented the removal of approximately 25 people. The signicance of this court order is magnied by the individual cases also issued the day before the ight.

Emotions run high in deportation cases, for obvious reasons. It is a politically incendiary area of law, in which the ripple eects are profound. The Jamaican charter ight case was billed by the government as being a clear-cut case of dangerous men with no basis of stay in the UK, who were being deported as a punishment for their heinous crimes. But the reality is less black and white. We
need to start by unpacking the idea that the ‘Jamaica 50’ – as they became collectively known – were all hardened, dangerouscriminals whose cases had been fully adjudicated.

Read more: Maria Thomas,

Million Undocumented Migrants Could Go Hungry

Approximately a million undocumented migrants living under the radar in the UK could be at risk not only of contracting Covid-19 but also of starvation because of the crisis created by the pandemic, charities have warned. Nobody knows exactly how many of these migrants are currently in the UK, as the Home Office does not have comprehensive records of their whereabouts. This group includes asylum seekers whose claims the Home Office has rejected but who are fearful of returning to their home countries and temporary workers whose visas have expired.

A report published in November 2019 by the Pew Research Center, a Washington thinktank, estimates that there could be between 800,000 and 1.2 million of these migrants currently in the UK. Asylum seekers with an active claim receive meagre support from the Home Office – £37.75 per week – to buy food and other essentials and no-choice accommodation. However, the vast majority of those whose cases have been refused receive no support at all. They are not allowed to work and survive thanks to a network of charities who provide survival packages of cooked meals at day centres, food parcels, secondhand clothing and supermarket vouchers. However, these charities have closed their day centres because of the pandemic.

Read more: Diane Taylor, Guardian,

UNHCR: Access to Territory For Persons In Need Of International Protection in the Context of Coronavirus

This paper sets out key legal considerations, based on international refugee and human rights law, on access to territory for persons seeking international protection in the context of measures taken by States to restrict the entry of non-nationals for the protection of public health in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It reconfirms that while States may put in place measures which may include a health screening or testing of persons seeking international protection upon entry and/or putting them in quarantine, such measures may not result in denying them an effective opportunity to seek asylum or result in refoulement.

States are entitled to take measures to ascertain and manage risks to public health, including risks that could arise in connection with non-nationals arriving at their border. Such measures must be non-discriminatory as well as necessary, proportionate and reasonable to the aim of protecting public health. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic States have, or are considering putting in place public health measures such as the screening of travellers on arrival and the use of quarantine for persons who have been identified as suffering from the disease or who may have been exposed to the virus. Such efforts, multilateral or national, are directed at containing this infectious disease and preventing its spread.

However, imposing a blanket measure to preclude the admission of refugees or asylum-seekers, or of those of a particular nationality or nationalities, without evidence of a health risk and without measures to protect against refoulement, would be discriminatory and would not meet international standards, in particular as linked to the principle of nonrefoulement. In case health risks are identified in the case of individual or a group of refugees or asylum-seekers, other measures could be taken, such as testing and/or quarantine, which would enable authorities to manage the arrival of asylum-seekers in a safe manner, while respecting the principle of non-refoulement. Denial of access to territory without safeguards to protect against refoulement cannot be justified on the grounds of any health risk.

Read more: Ref World,

Coronavirus: Prisons/IRC's Other Prescribed Places of Detention Guidance

1. any prisoner or detainee with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature should be placed in protective isolation for 7 days

2. if a member of staff or visitor becomes unwell on site with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should go home

3. staff, prisoners and visitors should be reminded to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues

4.frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products

5. prisoners or detainees who have a new, continuous cough or a high temperature but are clinically well enough to remain in prescribed places of detention (PPDs) do not need to be transferred to hospital

6. confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) should be notified by prison or immigration removal centre (IRC) healthcare teams as soon as possible to local Public Health England (PHE) Health Protection Teams (HPT)

7. people who are severely unwell may be transferred to appropriate healthcare facilities with usual escorts and following advice on safe transfers

8. staff should wear specified personal protective equipment (PPE) for activities requiring sustained close contact with possible cases (see below for detail)

9. if facing multiple cases of those displaying symptoms, ‘cohorting’, or the gathering of potentially infected cases into a designated area, may be necessary

10. PPD leaders should be assessing their estate for suitable isolation and cohorting provision

Read a lot more: